The Foreign Office changed its advice to warn against all but essential travel to the Canary and Balearic Islands to “stop the noise” that had been created by quarantine restrictions being imposed on all returning Brits, says Travel Counsellors’ managing director.
Kirsten Hughes believes the decision taken by the FCO on Monday was “made for the wrong reasons” and not based on medical evidence.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, she said news of the advisory being extended from mainland Spain to include the islands as well had caused a huge storm as it meant thousands of holidaymakers would lose their holidays and be out of pocket.
She said extending the FCO advice instantly “put the onus back on the tour operators to refund”, a move that would appease the general public.
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Hughes said: “I can be a little bit cynical about this, but first of all, the quarantine didn’t make any sense for the Canaries and the Balearics as the rates there are lower than they are in the UK. But what frustrated me more than anything else, was the FCO changing advice to travel to those countries, because it felt like a bit of a gut reaction.
“I think the Government sensed very quickly [the level of frustration among consumers], because the headlines became about customers saying ‘well, I can’t travel now, so who’s going to pay for my holiday and I can’t quarantine when I come back as that won’t be allowed, so I’m going to lose all my money’,” she said.
“It feels like the government clocked onto that quickly and the one way out of that was changing the FCO advice so then the onus was put back on the tour operators to refund the customers, to stop some of the noise.”
Hughes added: “I feel the decision on that was made for the wrong reasons; I don’t think it was medical. I have read as much as I can on that, and I can’t see the logical reason why they would have done it for the Canaries and Balearics.”
Hughes is currently in Marbella on Spain’s Costa del Sol, and said it was “really safe”.
“The traveling was safe, getting through the airport was safe; I came through Malaga airport and it was easy, very efficient. People are adhering to the rules [in Marbella], they’re wearing masks; they’ve been wearing masks in Spain for some time in the streets and in restaurants,” she said.
“So it feels very safe and on this coast, I think in the last seven days, they’ve had less than 30 new cases of Covid. Now for those that know me, I live in Bolton, that’s surrounded by Rochdale, Oldham, etc, which are being many more cases announced every single week. So to make such a blanket decision with quarantine seemed rash.”
Hughes continued: “I don’t really get into politics because everyone’s got an opinion on it but this weekend I was frustrated probably for the first time, because the government says they are trying to do right thing by people and people need a holiday.
“We have an office in the Netherlands and they made the decision to regionalise travel to Spain, which makes complete sense. I would have understood if they’d said travel to Barcelona or northern Spain [required quarantine on return]; I’d completely get it, but to shut Spain down completely just seemed a bit of a rash decision. And then obviously the Canaries and the Balearics, well that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever because the rates are so low.
“You’ve got to feel for the tour ops and we’re a tour operator as well. There’s been very little consideration through all this for us as an industry and this was a ‘get out of jail card’ for the government. They thoughts ‘we’ll just put the financial risk back onto the tour operators who are already struggling and have challenges.
“But we will always do the right thing by the customer. That’s always been our focus. Making sure they are safe is really important, but we need decisions to be made in a logical manner and I’m not sure the government is doing that right now.”